The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health and social disparities among US Pacific Islanders (PI). Historically, PIs have experienced a high burden of mental illness yet have underutilized mental health services. These already large treatment gaps in mental health care among PIs may worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of pre-existing challenges, little is known about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health outcomes among PIs.
A community-based, cross-sectional survey was administered to members of 13 PI churches across the San Francisco Bay Area. We assessed the burden of psychological distress among PIs and its associations with demographic, sociocultural, and health factors.
Among 439 PI respondents, nearly half reported moderate or severe psychological distress. Only about one-tenth took prescription medication for mental health and less than half utilized a mental health provider in the past year. Most trusted PI churches to provide health and social services. Respondents reporting moderate or severe psychological distress were less likely to utilize a mental health provider in the past year and more likely to feel marginalized, excluded, isolated, or alienated from society “most of the time” or “always.” Psychological distress was also associated with “fair” or “poor” health status, female gender, older adults, low trust in PI churches to provide health and social services, and concern over household finances.
Partnerships with faith-based and community-based organizations are essential to address unmet mental health needs and promote support-seeking behaviors among PIs during this ongoing pandemic and beyond.